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Ambassador Liu Xiaoming Gives Exclusive Interview to Sky News on Telephone Conversation between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Boris Johnson

On 18 February 2020, H.E. Ambassador Liu Xiaoming gave an exclusive interview to Deborah Haynes, Foreign Editor of Sky News, on the telephone conversation between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He also answered questions about China’s fight against the COVID-19 epidemic and other issues. The contents of the interview were aired on Sky News “Nightly News” and every hour. The transcript is as follows:

Haynes: You have something you want share?

Ambassador: Yes, very good news. President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Boris Johnson just had a telephone conversation. This is the first conversation between the two leaders after Prime Minister Johnson got reelected. They had a very good conversation. They talked about China’s battle against COVID-19 and Prime Minister Johnson expressed high appreciation of the efforts made by China. They talked about how China and UK can collaborate to fight shoulder to shoulder against the virus.

They also talked about how the two countries will strengthen China-UK relationship for the next ten years. Prime Minister Johnson also mentioned the “Golden Era” and they’ve reached broad consensus.

President Xi emphasized that China has taken very comprehensive, strict and thorough prevention and control measures. The whole country has been mobilized and our methods are showing positive effect. We are confident that we have the capability to win the battle against the virus. Prime Minister spoke highly of China’s efforts, China’s contribution, and appreciated highly the speed and effectiveness of the measures taken by China. President Xi also said that we are open and transparent in terms of collaboration with the international community including the UK. We are responsible not only for the health and safety of the Chinese people, which is the top priority of the government work. We are also making contribution to safety and health of the world people, contributing to global public health. We appreciate the support given by the British side. Prime Minister Johnson also expressed readiness to assist further.

Talking about the relationship, Prime Minister told President Xi that he loves China, and he and his administration want to work with China to elevate the relationship to a new level. President Xi also expressed our commitment to the relationship. China and UK are both countries of global influence and permanent members of the UN Security Council. There are enormous common interests between our two countries not only on bilateral issues but also on multilateral agenda. Prime Minister mentioned the COP 15 (the 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity) and COP 26 (the 26h Meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention on Climate Change). He believed that there are a lot of opportunities between China and UK to work on the global agenda and address the global challenges like climate change. It’s a very good conversation, which not only set the tone but also set the new direction for China-UK relations at this critical moment between China and UK. That’s basically the good news I want to let you know, first hand.

Haynes: Thank you. And in the conversation, did they talk about trade deal and the timeline, when that would be achieved?

Ambassador: They covered broad issues but I do not recall the specific one on trade deal. When it comes to the trade deal, we are open. Once UK leaves EU, you’ll have a new free trade agreement with China and we are open to that. Last year, the two countries set up a working team to carry out feasibility studies on the trade deal. But last year the British government was so focused on Brexit. This year after you have Brexit done, I think your top priority is still negotiating with your EU partners. China is open and ready to engage with UK to reach a new agreement on trade

Haynes: Those working groups paused, as I understand, last year because of the Brexit, in part. Have they restarted?

Ambassador: We are ready to work with British colleagues at any time. I think UK is still in a process of making adjustments: just had a new administration, a new reshuffle. We do not know who will be the minister. I am not talking about the secretary of state, but the minister responsible for bilateral trade. I guess UK probably will make some adjustments to government structure and personnel. We are ready to engage with each other, and the British side has already expressed willingness as well. But because now we are focusing on the battle against the virus, it will probably still take some time for the two sides to get into the details. I think both sides have the willingness to engage with each other more positively.

Haynes: Did the two leaders talk about security, and Huawei and 5G?

Ambassador: I don’t have the specific information. But the President mentioned that we hope that the two countries should show respect for each other and attach importance to the main concerns and core interests. Both sides will work together to build open economy, to be committed to free trade and multilateralism. I think the messages are very clear.

Haynes: Do you think that frankly speaking, if Britain hadn’t made that decision to choose Huawei to be part of the network, this telephone call wouldn’t have happened?

Ambassador: I would not link the telephone call with one specific case. Because this telephone call is about a much bigger picture. Prime Minister Johnson would like to know first hand from the President how things are going on in China. From the President’s remarks, the Prime Minister would feel much more confident that the virus is under control and China’s measures are showing positive effects. In fact, I think your audience might be interested in the most recent positive signs in our work. I just received the figures which show “three firsts”. As of today, it is the first time that the confirmed cases were brought down to less than 2000, the death cases were brought down to less than 100, and the confirmed cases outside Hubei were brought down to less than 100. That shows the quarantine efforts and measures are taking very good effect. Also it’s about how China and UK can work together, to use the Prime Minister’s term, “shoulder to shoulder”, to fight against this virus. This virus is not only a challenge to the Chinese government, but also a challenge to the whole world. So the international community has to work together. The UK has offered its assistance and expressed willingness to help China. We highly appreciate that. And also about the big picture of China-UK relations, Huawei is just one of the issues or maybe one part of China-UK relations.

Haynes: How can UK help China deal with the virus? What are the specifics?

Ambassador: There are many ways. First, we appreciate the sympathy and support expressed by the British people from all walks of life. Her Majesty the Queen passed on the message through the Duke of York and through me to President Xi and the Chinese people. The President highly appreciated that. He mentioned that in the conversation with Prime Minister Johnson. Prime Minister Johnson also wrote a letter to Premier Li Keqiang to show support and sympathy. We received many donations from British businesses, both in terms of medical supplies badly needed in China and also from students, even ordinary people, average citizens. Here at the Embassy we received letters showing their sympathy, support and donations. Though it is not big money, we highly appreciate it. The British government sent two shipments of medical supplies to China, which is also highly appreciated.

Haynes: Do you believe the peak has been reached now in China?

Ambassador: I cannot say for sure that we have reached the peak because there are still new confirmed cases and fatality cases every day, though they have been brought down tremendously. Yesterday the death cases outside Hubei was only 5, and most dead cases are happening in Hubei. The cured cases are increasing tremendously. Now they are about 7 times of the death cases. That shows the effectiveness of the medical treatment of the patients. I can’t say when we are going to have the inflection point. I do hope that we will get there sooner. But I think, with these effective measures, and if we keep working on, we will reach the peak. I hope I will report to you on that. I hope we will see the absolute reduction of death cases sooner.

Haynes: Do you think the authority reacted too slowly and tried to cover up the obvious in the early days?

Ambassador: I don’t think so. I think the central government attached great importance to this. As the President emphasized, the life and safety of the people is the top priority of the government work, and he called 3 meetings of the top leadership, that is, the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC, to map out emergency measures. The central government set up a task force to lead the efforts of the whole country. The military has been mobilized. But this virus is really something very new. People do not understand it. In recent days, it got a new name from the World Health Organization. So people should understand that it will take time for people to understand and to respond. As I said, Prime Minister Johnson appreciated the speed and effectiveness of the measures taken by the Chinese government. So I can say with certainty that the government has made every effort to address this challenge. The government has also tried every effort to be transparent, to share all the information with the WHO and also with relevant countries including UK. Chinese scientists and British scientists are working together on the drug and vaccine. I do hope scientists will make early success on this.

Haynes: While you say you don’t think the response was too slow, do you think it is because President Xi wasn’t involved early on with this meeting with the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau? There is the risk that he could be criticized for not speaking out publicly sooner given that he didn’t make public comments until almost two weeks later.

Ambassador: As I said, you know, when things happened at the very grass root, it takes time for people to understand what the danger is, what the risks are and what the virus is. It takes time and efforts of the medical experts to understand it. Before it is transformed into government policy, it will take some time. But I think the Chinese government, the top leadership, adopted very quick response. As I said, the central government has adopted very comprehensive, thorough and strict measures. I think the whole world should appreciate what China has done. The President also told the Prime Minister that we have been successful in preventing this virus from spreading to other parts of the world. Because of the efforts and measures taken, the virus is now mainly confined to Hubei province with its center in Wuhan. It’s about the size of England plus Wales. The whole country is not the outbreak area. There are very few cases in the world. If it were not for the efforts of the Chinese government, the picture will be completely different.

Haynes: In your press conference you gave last week, you signaled that you did not agree with the British and other governments’ policies of advising citizens to leave mainland China. And yet, it seems that the authority in Beijing now is ordering anyone who comes to the city from anywhere in the world to be enforced 14 days of quarantine. Is that perhaps an over-reaction as well?

Ambassador: That is different from a government asking all its nationals to evacuate from China. This is not a precautionary measure. It will create panic. That is why from day one, we disapprove of this practice. Our measures are just to be on the safe side, to take precaution. As a matter of fact, we advise people to stay put where you are. That is exactly the advice of the World Health Organization. So we ask those countries who call for evacuation of their nationals to follow the advice of WHO, and do not create panic.

Haynes: Do you hope the British will change their advice?

Ambassador: Yes, certainly. As I’m saying now, our measures are making progress, and showing positive effects. And I think the British government advises that they are going to make adjustment according to the changed situation in China. I do hope that they will make their adjustment about their advice as things are improving.

Haynes: There is a WHO field party in China at the moment but they have not yet gone to Hubei. Do you know why? Is it because they do not want to go or because the Chinese government stopped them?

Ambassador: No, I don’t think we will stop them from doing anything. And I think you should ask WHO. My impression is, as I do not know their specific plan, but I know they are traveling in some parts of China and doing some joint work. It seems to me you follow them more closely than I do. I do not know their travel plan in China, whether they are going to Hubei. If they do not go, they must have a reason; if they go, we will see.

Haynes: You said at your press conference that you didn’t think the Chinese economy will be too badly affected in areas obviously like tourism and travel. And yet we’re hearing that South Korea express concern of the knock-on effect on its economic prospects. And big companies like Apple too are saying that their profits are going to be affected. Can you say now, with a better picture of what’s going on, how grave the effect the epidemic is having on the Chinese economy, and potentially the world economy?

Ambassador: I would say there will be impact on the economy. Even here – I watched the television the other day – I’m not sure it was Sky News or BBC– people are talking about the reduction of tourism and Chinese shoppers, and at the Bicester Village, many shops are closed, and some tourist attractions do not have any more Chinese tourists. Yes, there will be some impacts. But I think the impacts are short-term and temporary, because the fundamentals of the Chinese economy are still good. The Chinese economy is still very resilient. The reform and opening-up will continue and China will open wider. Starting from this year, on January 1, the Foreign Investment Law took effect. If you follow the situation in China closely, the Chinese government puts emphasis on two fronts: one is the battle against the virus, and the other is the resumption of production. You can see the country mobilized to fight the two battles. I think in the long term, the Chinese economy is still good and President Xi Jinping also told Prime Minister Johnson that we are confident that we will reach the target of our economic development this year. This year is a very important year for China -- we’ll achieve our centenary goal, that is, to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all aspects and to eliminate extreme poverty in China. So as President Xi told Prime Minister Johnson, we are confident that we’ll reach our target. Thank you, Deborah. I think we’ve already done overtime.

Haynes: Could I ask about HS2? Did the President talk about HS2?

Ambassador: I haven’t heard that they talked about HS2. It’s a non-story. There’s one thing I want to let you know. It is fake news that the Chinese Railway Company wrote a letter to the British authorities about their willingness to complete the construction in five years. And they already made their statement to clarify the misinformation. I think my Minister Counsellor of press can provide you with a copy of their statement.

Haynes: Do you have a statement too about the Xinjiang-related leaks?

Ambassador: That is totally a rumor and made-up story. I said on many occasions that Xinjiang is not about human rights, not about religion. It’s about anti-terrorism. And the rights of religious freedom are fully protected in Xinjiang, and people enjoy happy life. Thank you.

Haynes: Thank you, Ambassador.

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